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Tag Archive: Jane Austin

Mar 03

Reading about a Reader’s Reader: Joe Queenan

Credit: Photo published by The Book Reporter www.bookreporter.com

Credit: Photo published by The Book Reporter www.bookreporter.com

The cover of the Rotarian monthly magazine caught my eye. The magazine, a year old now, was stuck in a rack at a car dealership that I know well and frequent a lot. I glimpsed a corner, saw the title “The Joys of Reading”, and that was all I needed to know.

I rescued it.

Inside was a fascinating story titled “Living by the Book” by Joe Queenan. Subtitle: “Books may be the best way to engage the world. Even if you intend to have an argument”.

I admit I did not know about Joe or his writing, and for that matter his voracious reading.  I do now.

Fascinated by the article, I read it, and then began searching for more information on Joe Queenan. Of course I did.

I am betting you might be interested, as well.

An excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article, “My 6,128 Favorite Books” explained in Queenan’s own view ‘how a harmless juvenile pastime turned into a lifelong personality disorder’.

Here is an excerpt:

“I started borrowing books from a roving Quaker City bookmobile when I was 7 years old. Things quickly got out of hand. Before I knew it I was borrowing every book about the Romans, every book about the Apaches, every book about the spindly third-string quarterback who comes off the bench in the fourth quarter to bail out his team. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but what started out as a harmless juvenile pastime soon turned into a lifelong personality disorder.

Fifty-five years later, with at least 6,128 books under my belt, I still organize my daily life—such as it is—around reading. As a result, decades go by without my windows getting washed.

My reading habits sometimes get a bit loopy. I often read dozens of books simultaneously. I start a book in 1978 and finish it 34 years later, without enjoying a single minute of the enterprise. I absolutely refuse to read books that critics describe as “luminous” or “incandescent.” I never read books in which the hero went to private school or roots for the New York Yankees. I once spent a year reading nothing but short books. I spent another year vowing to read nothing but books I picked off the library shelves with my eyes closed. The results were not pretty.

I even tried to spend an entire year reading books I had always suspected I would hate: “Middlemarch,” “Look Homeward, Angel,” “Babbitt.” Luckily, that project ran out of gas quickly, if only because I already had a 14-year-old daughter when I took a crack at “Lolita.”

Just the other day, my friend Bill and I had an email discussion about “Middlemarch” (see reference above in quote from Queenan).

Bill explained our reservations this way: “I just picked up the book ‘My Life in Middlemarch’ by Rebecca Mead. Whereby she creates her own memoir and literary criticism by showing her life and trial as they mirror the main characters lives. The protagonist Dorothea Brooke marries badly and endures and makes peace. Like I say, I am intrigued, but to take on a 800 p. Jane Austin-ish/ Bronte-ish novel is a heavy lift”.

Incidentally, neither Bill nor I are brave enough to tackle it, to date, that is.

Since it’s Joe Queenan we are discussing, one would expect a plethora of stories about him. If you like to read, it’s worth taking a minute to discover this reader’s reader. Personally, I have no idea how he does it and manages a life at the same time. There are moments, I confess, I could succumb.

After all, it is as Thomas Allen once quipped: “If you have read 6,000 books in your lifetime, or even 600, it’s probably because at some level you find ‘reality’ a bit of a disappointment.”

And therefore, we read don’t we.

Here is Queenan in the news as promised:

From NPR: Reading 125 Titles a Year? That’s ‘One for the Books’ http://www.npr.org/2012/11/01/163949969/reading-125-titles-a-year-thats-one-for-the-books

From The Book Report Network: A Biography and Partial List of Queenan’s Books:


Full Article From WSJ: “My 6,128 Favorite Books” by Joe Queenan


And most recently, this entertaining read from The Weekly Standard’s The Magazine: “How Do You Feel? The interrogative mysteries of Deep Space” - MAR 10, 2014


Some of you ‘get it’, this reading ‘personality disorder’. For the rest, well, we are moving on. Happy Reading.


Apr 01

Judging a beauty pageant in search of “Helen of Troy”

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” –from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

According to Greek mythology, Zeus gave Paris, a mortal, the Herculeon task of deciding who was the fairest of goddesses. Aphrodite, Hera, or Pallas Athene.

I am certainly glad I did not have Paris’s task, but I had one nearly as weighty, at least for me.

Last weekend, I was honored to be one of five judges at the 2010 Mrs. Missouri America Pageant in Branson.

Tell you more about who won the crown in a minute, but first, let’s get back to Greek mythology because it has a lot to do with my story.

As the mythological tale goes, Zeus hosted a big dinner party and for some reason did not invite Eris, the Goddess of Discord. Big mistake. Not a good plan to ignore a Goddess of Discord.

Feeling snubbed, Eris arrived uninvited and angrily threw her magical Golden Apple of Discord into the festivities. An inscription on the apple read: “For the Fairest”, and thusly all three goddesses immediately wanted that apple.

Zeus was understandably reluctant (more likely scared to death) to judge these fiercely competitive beauties and afraid to award the apple and title to “the fairest”. Therefore, since he was a god and since he could, Zeus tossed the hot potato problem to Paris, a mortal known for his fairness.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

As you may recall from your history studies, things got a bit dicey after that. Hera offered Paris wealth and power if he chose her. Pallas Athene promised him honor and glory, but Aphrodite trumped them all with her promise of Helen, the most beautiful mortal on earth, as Paris’s wife.

The only problem was that Paris must steal Helen from her husband King Menelaus of Sparta, which, as you may recall, resulted in the famed Trojan War.

Thankfully in real life, judging beauty pageants is not as difficult or dangerous as in Greek mythology.

The Mrs. Missouri judges this past weekend were privileged to meet a bevy of astoundingly beautiful women who happened to be equally as smart, talented, philanthropic, volunteer-minded, articulate and strong as they were beautiful.

Seventeen women ranging in age from 22 to 56, all beautiful inside and out, participated in the pageant representing a myriad of life experiences and professions.

Such as, pharmacist, cosmetologist, minister, eye doctor, Deputy Chief of Staff for a U.S. Congressman, legal assistant, paramedic, singer, student, mother, volunteer, businesswoman and savvy entrepreneur.

As Jane Austin once noted, “It sometimes happens that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than she was ten years before.”

How did we choose a winner from among these exceptional ageless beauties you may ask?

Partially by the numbers and points assigned for each category, or simply put, by the spreadsheet. Often we hear that the answer to nearly everything is “in the numbers”, right?

Perhaps, except for that one indescribable, intangible quality that makes “cream rise to the top”—the “it” factor.

Emily Dickinson once noted, “Beauty is not caused. It is.”

And we know it when we see it, don’t we?

Therefore as promised and with no further adieu, allow me to introduce Mrs. Missouri America 2010 and her top four runners-up. (Incidentally, they each possess the “it” factor, in my humble opinion.)

Please meet, Mrs. Missouri America 2010–Dr. Carrie Hruza, 38, of Ladue!
First runner-up, Melissa Roe, 32, of Kansas City who will serve if for any reason Mrs. Missouri cannot; second runner-up and Most Photogenic, Stephanie Gaines, 26, of Smithville; third runner-up and Congeniality winner, Tina York, 34, of Lee’s Summit; and 4th runner-up, Rebecca Brand, 28, of St. Charles.

My thoughts go back to Paris though. Why did he not use a tally sheet to choose “the fairest” goddess instead of abducting Helen of Troy, the fairest of them all?

Had to be the “it” factor that made him do it. I am just saying.